India’s “Boat People”

Gets Tough On Rohingya Migrants

By Poonam I Kaushish

In the summer of 1975, hundreds of thousands of people fled South Vietnam after the fall of Saigon for fear of political persecution. They escaped in rickety and unseaworthy wooden boats. This was the largest mass exodus of asylum seekers by sea in modern history. Giving rise to the term “boat people”. The world embraced them as refugees after a great deal of high drama. The US which had created the mess led on the people it had walked out on. Canada, Britain, Australia, Thailand, Malaysia, Japan even tiny Bermuda followed.
Fourteen years later in 1989, the world changed its mind. The boat people had become an albatross round the neck. Worse, a new breed of boat people was taking to the seas: economic refugees. They were farmers, factory workers and labourers looking for a new life in new safe havens. They had no proof that they faced persecution if they returned.
In 2016, the world woke up to another set of boat people whereby over 22 million Syrians sought asylum in various parts of the world following six years of civil war. Of these 13.5 million required humanitarian assistance and around 5 million wanted refuge in European countries.
One year later again history repeats itself when over 164,000 Rohingyas (Muslims) fled violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State in fishing boats and sought asylum in India and Bangladesh. Today, there are over 40,000 Rohingyas living in here and are all over the place: Jammu, Hyderabad, Delhi and Mewat.
The Modi Sarkar has made plain they are a national security threat and must be deported to Myanmar, notwithstanding criticism by human rights activists and the UN asserting they were the most persecuted ethnic group in the world. More so against the backdrop of the ugly reality that illegal immigrants from Bangladesh have completely changed the North East’s demographic landscape, threatened the livelihood and the identity of the indigenous people.
Already, 9 of Assam’s 27 districts have a Muslim majority population and hold the key for 60 of its 126 Assembly constituencies. Over 85% of the total encroached forest land is with the Bangladeshis. According to intelligence reports, “In the last 70 years Assam’s population increased from 3.29 million to 14.6 million – a 343.77 % increase” over a period when the population of India went up by only about 150%!
Seven districts of Bihar, West Bengal, North East and Rajasthan have been affected as a result of large-scale illegal migration. Even the Union Capital has over 10 lakhs and Maharashtra over 100,000 illegal Bangladeshi migrants. Tripura is a tragic example of the obliteration of the local identity. In Nagaland, the population of illegal migrants from Bangladesh has more than trebled in the past two decades — rising from 20,000 in 1991 to over 75,000 in 2001.
In Mizoram the anti-outsider feelings vents itself in frequent volatile student’s stir.
In Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh too, illegal Bangladeshis have taken full advantage of our lax laws to secure ration cards. From rag pickers to domestic help, agriculture workers to rickshaw-pullers et al are mostly illegal migrants and are taking jobs away from legitimate citizens.
More. India is home for over 150,000 Tibetan refugees, 70,000 Afghanis, 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils and 3.5 million Nepali refugees. With an ever burgeoning population bursting at the seams this spells disaster. Against 1.3 billion Indians the ratio of illegal migrants is 100 to 2.5 thereby putting colossal pressure on our scarce resources, unemployment is rising which is pushing wages even lower.
Sources vow that terrorist outfits like the Islamic State and Pakistan-based insurgents have infiltrated divergent immigrants including the Rohingyas, as there is no method of differentiating between a militant and an immigrant a grave security threat is posed.
Not only that. There are over 200 ISI camps operating across the border. The ISI has sent many Bangladeshis to undergo training as saboteurs in Pakistan. According to RAW sources, the ISI has unleashed “Operation PINCODE” to bring the entire North East under Islamic rule. With Bangladesh in the throes of a low-key Talibanization, this spells double trouble. Stated a senior defence official, “The situation is more serious on our eastern border than on the western front.”
Undoubtedly, the influx of such a large number of illegal immigrants pan India is more than an “aggression” and has “created a fear psychosis, made life of the people wholly insecure and caused insurgency in alarming proportions,” said a senior Home Ministry official.
Besides New Delhi is caught between a rock and a hard place. Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens hence it would be difficult to deport them. Given the socio-economic complexities of our politics and society there could be a debate on their minority rights. As international migration scholar Myron Weiner says: Population flows across borders “do not merely happen. More often they are made to happen”. Governments sometimes force emigration “as a means of achieving cultural homogeneity or for asserting the dominance of one ethnic community over another”.
In fact, globally countries are realizing their open door policy to refugees was a grave mistake. German Chancellor Merkel is now regretting her decision, France is waking up to its Islamisation by 2030, Denmark and Scandanavian countries are throwing them out. All realize it isn’t merely demographic change and culture shock but with scarce resources joblessness is on the rise resulting in increasing crime. US President Trump had made throwing out immigrants his poll plank.
Where do we go from here? Pander to rabid rabble rousers? Pander to the politics of vote banks? Allow the Push and Pull theory of illegality to continue. The Push back to poverty vs the Pull of India’s rich pastures. The option is narrow. The solution must be clearly dictated by India’s primary interest: its integrity and stability.
But it’s not going to be a cake walk as the Opposition wants the Government to take a humane and holistic view, read vote bank politics. The Rohingyas will gladly trade their votes for the right to stay in India. Alas, most ‘secular’ Parties have recklessly imported illegal immigrants to inflate their vote banks.
True, throwing them out would be difficult. However, in matters of national security there is no place for communal agendas or narrow sectarian politics. Is the Government capable of defusing this powder keg? Mere assurances of being pro-active will no longer do. It may be necessary to launch a series of major offensives to drive home the message to the illegal immigrants.
In practical terms, strict policing and border management is needed. Local people need to be recruited for policing. Certainly, if one cannot stop infiltrators at the border then there is no way one can push them back. Given that the issue is no longer a humanitarian issue dictated by the theory of needs or economy driven.It is a grave demographic, economic and national security problem.
Clearly, the time is far gone to pussy-foot the issue. Prolonged inaction has already proved too costly. The need of the hour is to understand the seriousness of the problem, deal assertively with the issues and set up time-bound measures once and for all. More than talking tough NaMo once and for all needs to bell the big fat cat of illegal migrants. — INFA